The past few years have seen Eli Winter build up a pastoral folk tradition that pushes aside a lot of the assumptions about fingerpicked players. Leaving behind the Takoma narrative, he explores a sun n’ shade ramble that encompasses the verdant folk of friends like William Tyler, the bluegrass bliss of Cameron Knowler, and the Chicago jazz shadows of Ryley Walker. The last two players pop up on the album, in fact, alongside a veritable best-of list of new Americana players — Yasmin Williams, Jordan Reyes, Whitney Johnson, and David Grubbbs, among the many here. The songs on the record have a traveling quality borrowed from Bluegrass, but bent away from the barn floor. They’re open window odes for endless miles of pasture and peak alike.
The majority of the record embraces Winter’s ability to convey boundless joy, feelings he balances with the darker creases on “No Fear.” The cut features Ryley Walker and Cameron Knowler trading barbs over a static horizon, a contrast to his more amiable fare, but a testament to the deep well of his talent. The record hinges on this and “Brain On Ice,” another more caustic take, before returning to sundown rambles laced with pedal steel. Where many fingerpickers seek out the starkness of their instrument alone, what Winter has done here is a more layered approach. The multitude of friends along for the ride fit out his self-titled record with a slightly cinematic fizz, sliding the sweet air of “Dayenu” into the open vistas of Jaimie Branch’s flugelhorn and letting the album settle with strings and harmonium via Matchess’ Whiteney Johnson and David Grubbs respectively. The year has been full of great folk albums, but perhaps none of the records themselves have been so full and brimming as what Eli has done here.
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